Underperforming NHS hospitals ‘are being dragged in for Cobra-style meetings’ in desperate attempt to fix deadly ambulance handover delays

  • Bosses from 15 hospitals ordered to plan ways to discharge patients faster
  • The trusts are logging nearly half of all ambulance delays nationwide 
  • Cobra-style meetings are said to be reminiscent of those seen during pandemic

More than a dozen underperforming NHS hospitals are being dragged in for emergency meetings with ministers in a bid to tackle the handover delay crisis.

Bosses from 15 hospitals, including  Birmingham, Leicester and the southwest, have been summoned for talks to set out ways they can discharge patients faster to make space in hospitals.

The Cobra-style meetings are said to be reminiscent of those seen during the Covid pandemic, which put plans in place to tackle the national emergency.

The 15 trusts are logging nearly half of all ambulance delays nationwide — despite England having around 200 trusts.

The crisis has seen ambulances queue for 26 hours outside of hospitals, heart attack patients wait three hours for paramedics and more than 1,000 harmed a day due to delays.

Ministers are expected to call in central administrators to hospitals that fail to show a swift improvement in their handover delays ahead of winter.

Officials have warned that the NHS crisis will only worsen in the coming weeks, as an influx of Covid and flu rates is expected to see thousands more Britons admitted.

Health Minister Robert Jenrick said the Government ‘shouldn’t be tolerant of those parts of the NHS which are underperforming’.

Ambulance response times recovered slightly in August but the time taken for paramedics to arrive on the scene was still well above targets

Emergency unit data shows that three in 10 Britons were forced to wait longer than four hours in A&E departments in August, while nearly one thousand per day waited for 12 hours

Health Minister Robert Jenrick said the Government ‘shouldn’t be tolerant of those parts of the NHS which are underperforming’

More than 22,000 hospital appointments are being cancelled every day — despite waiting lists for treatment standing at a record 6.8million, it emerged today.

The Government has pledged to tackle the NHS care backlog but some patients are continuing to see their appointments cancelled multiple times.

So far this year, the average number of cancellations each day was 20 per cent more than it was before the pandemic, when around 18,000 were axed every day.

The data comes from 78 trusts who answered freedom of information requests sent by the Daily Telegraph.

It is not clear what the cancelled appointments were for, but they may include X-rays and other medical scans

Daily cancellations were at their highest in 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — when they hit 24,561, before dropping to 20,856 in 2021 and now rising again this year to 22,178.

In 2021, the number of appointments that were cancelled five times or more stood at 30,267 — two-thirds higher than in 2019 (17,884).

In the same year, the number of appointments axed 10 or more times was 1,325 — an increase by 50 per cent compared to 2019 when it was 900, according to the data.

Some trusts clarified that appointments may be recorded as cancellations if they are moved to a different part of the hospital or carried out by a different clinician.


A source told The Telegraph that ministers are holding the meetings with NHS bosses from the worst-performing hospitals.

They aim to make a plan to discharge patients more quickly, such as by using ‘virtual wards’ — which enable medics to monitor patients from their homes using mobile technology.

The NHS says discharging delays are piling pressure on bed capacity, with only 45 per cent of patients in August discharged on time.

This meant an average of 13,388 beds in England were occupied when they didn’t need to be.

The knock-on effects see ambulances facing hours of queues as medics scramble to find space for their patient.

And around 1,000 A&E attendees per day were waiting more than 12 hours for a space in a ward in August. 

The difficulties discharging patients has been pinned on the social care crisis — with too few staff available to look after those recovering at home, forcing the NHS to keep them in wards. 

It comes as Dr Coffey yesterday told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that there is too much ‘variation’ in patients experience with the NHS.

Ambulance handovers are supposed to take place in 15 minutes, with none taking more than half an hour.

But statistics show that University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, the worst offender, logged 6,872 waits of more than one hour, representing five per cent of the national total.

For comparison, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, the 15th worst trust for the delays, logged 2,571 — two per cent of the total.

Mr Jenrick said the Government ‘shouldn’t be tolerant of those parts of the NHS which are underperforming’.

The former Treasury and Housing Minister told a Policy Exchange fringe event that dozens of hospitals are failing to treat patients in a timely way, while others nearby were logging significantly fewer delays. 

According to The Times, Mr Jenrick said: ‘The statistics speak for themselves: 45 per cent of the delays that we see and handing over ambulances at emergency departments across the country are in 15 NHS hospital trusts.’

He said ministers are working with hospitals that are failing to deliver acceptable levels of care to raise standards ‘very quickly’.

‘And urgent and emergency care I think is probably the most pressing ones of those – because we have such a short period ahead of us to get the NHS into the right place ahead of the winter,’ he said, according to The Telegraph.

NHS England figures show 6.8million patients were in the queue for routine hospital treatment in July, equivalent to one in eight people. Nearly 380,000 have been waiting for over one year

Cancer patients starting treatment within two months of an urgent referral increased from 59.9 per cent in June to 61.6 per cent in July. But the figure is below the 85 per cent standard, which hasn’t been hit since 2014

But he called for ‘boosterism’ to be put to one side, noting that the shortage of doctors and nurses was the key issue for the health service. 

The NHS is subject to ‘too many targets’ and better judgment should be used in the future when imposing them.

However, the worst-ranked hospitals that are ‘not delivering an acceptable level of care for their patients’ should be trying to better improve their rating.

The Telegraph reported that he said: ‘This autumn and winter is going to be one of the most challenging that the NHS has known in its history. 

‘[I want] to be very straightforward about the challenges that are faced by the NHS right now and not to attempt to sugarcoat those.’ 

Mr Jenrick admitted the NHS will need more cash in the coming years due to the UK’s demographics — with an ageing population set to see more Britons with chronic illness requiring treatment.

He called for NHS reform to make it more efficient, such as by using more technology. 

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